Sunday, November 11, 2018

Houdini the Patriot


Today, Nov 11, 2018, marks the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War 1. The war which began in 1914. Coincidentally, the United States did not get into WWI until the day that Houdini celebrated as his birthday, April 6th, 1917.  And, despite the fact that the land in which Houdini was really born, Hungary, was involved on the opposing side in the war, Houdini stayed true to The United States.  He was a true blue American. Though Houdini appears to be mostly apolitical, he was certainly quite patriotic. And he was a big supporter of the War effort in WWI. Houdini actually enlisted but was too old to be considered. Instead, he got behind President Wilson and the war effort by selling Liberty Bonds and performed at military bases across the country to support the troops.

The S.S. Antilles, was a US Troop-Transport Ship that was sailing out of France on it's way to the United Stated on October 15, 1917. A German u-boat fired a torpedo at the Antilles the morning of Oct 17th sinking the ship. Sixty Seven sailors lost their lives.

Now Houdini steps into the picture. As a way to raise money for the families of the service members who died, Houdini put together a benefit show. His idea was to bring together theatrical artists and put on a huge show at the Hippodrome Theatre in NYC. The program was dubbed, 'Remember The Antilles' and was presented on November 11th, 1917. Among the artists in the 'Carnival of Wonders' portion of the show were: Charles Carter, Frederick E. Powell, Julius Zancig, Howard Thurston, Theo Hardeen, Adelaide Herrmann, Houdini, the biggest name of them all Harry Kellar.

Kellar's name was important, as he was coaxed out of retirement for the singular event. His appearance was billed as 'positively farewell performance by Harry Kellar, The Dean of Magicians.' He had retired from the stage in 1908, having handed his 'Mantle of Magic' over to Howard Thurston at Ford's Theatre in Baltimore MD. For his portion of the show he presented 'table lifting' and then his version of the Davenport Spirit Cabinet. An account in the Dec 1917 issue of The Sphinx magazine says that Kellar far outshined all the earlier performers. And they added this, "He is just as good as ever and works with the same rare skill that made him not only the dean of magicians, but one of the most finished performers we have ever known."

Houdini followed with his Metamorphosis routine and then the Water Torture Cell. I should also note, to promote the entire event he did his upside down strait jacket escape from a crane on Broadway.

When the event was over Houdini's benefits show raised $10,000.00. This would be a little over $212,000.00 in todays money. I'd say it was a huge success.  Speaking of money raised, The Secret Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Sloman says that Houdini sold more than $1,000,000.00 in war bonds and gave away at least $7000 of his own money to soldiers during shows at military bases.

There is more to the Carnival of Magic Show at the Hippodrome, but I'd prefer to include that in an upcoming podcast. For now, I hope you enjoyed Houdini the Patriot!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Forgotten Houdini Student

Poster by Alfred Choubrac
Looking through old magic magazines often reveal little gems of information. I was going through an old issue of Mahatma Magazine, the July 1902 issue, I came across a sentence about Houdini.
"Eugene Fougere has been taking magic lessons from Harry Houdini, according to an account in a German Newspaper. I think that magic is in demand as everyone wants to become a magician."

There is little chance of me finding the German newspaper, but I was curious who this 'Eugene Fougere' was. It turns out that Eugene Fougere is actually Eugenie Fougere and was a French Vaudeville and music hall star.  Her act was extremely suggestive & seductive for the time. She was called a soubrette-a flirtatious or frivolous woman. In 1891, she came to the United States to tour the Vaudeville theaters here. Her tour was met with scandalous reviews. She was really before her time. One article I read likened her to the way America looked at Elvis when he appeared on the scene. Many loved him, others were shocked by his gyrations. I'd say that Eugenie's gyrations were even more daring than anything Elvis was doing, at least for the period of time, but tame for the 21st century of course.

In 1902 she was back in Paris. Houdini, in January & half of  February of 1902, was performing at The Olympia Theatre in Paris. He started at the Olympia on November 29th, 1901. The Olympia is a 2000 seat theatre that has since hosted stars like Josephine Baker, Marlene Dietrich, Liza Minelli, The Jackson Five, The Rolling Stones, even the Beatles. But in 1901-02, the Olympia was featuring Houdini & Eugenie Fougere on their bill. It was his King of Cards Act that made him a hit in Paris, rather than his handcuff act. I would imagine it was card magic that he was teaching to Eugenie Fougere. And I've seen nothing in regards to her adding magic to her act. It is likely her sex appeal outshined any tricks she might have included.

By the way, one of Houdini's more famous non-escape promotions took place in Paris. He hired 7 bald headed men to paint the letters H-O-U-D-I-N-I on top of their heads. They would then wear a bowler hat and sit at a cafe. Then at numerous times per day, they would lean over and remove their hats, showing the name HOUDINI to passers by.

And now, for the curious, here is Eugenie Fougere presenting her 'ragtime -cake-walk' dance.




Monday, November 5, 2018

Magic Detective Podcast Ep 7-Houdini & Congress 1926


Seeing as we are on the eve of a big congressional election, I thought I'd share a podcast about the time Houdini testified before Congress on behalf of an Anti-Fortune Telling Bill. It was quite a wild affair, with Houdini bringing in some of his top notch investigators like Remegius Weiss and Rose Mackenburg. It's clear from the transcripts that some of the congressmen were not taking this seriously. Still others were dead serious about the testimony.

My guess is that Houdini must have had a hand in crafting the bill, which was another reason he was brought in. There are a number of surprises that come up over the several days of testimony. Much of this episode comes directly from the Congressional Record. And it also comes from several articles that appeared right here, in TheMagicDetective blog!

A side note, earlier this year (2018) I actually was involved in a video documentary about Houdini's time before Congress. The video was made for a French Language TV Show, so despite my excitement, it will all get dubbed over. I don't think it's aired yet, but when it does, I'll let you know. I'm curious how some of the magic turned out as the humidity that day was wreaking havoc on some of my sleights and flourishes, including a coin roll (the coin kept sticking to my fingers)

This episode runs almost 40 minutes and will be the last FULL Houdini Episode for a while. At least, that is the plan at the moment. Because it's my podcast, I could easily go back on that, lol. But I'm hoping to make the next podcast about Harry Kellar. For now, please enjoy Episode 7!